I had just come home from work, and I was in the backyard with my kids. Our dog, a Boxer with a sad face and perpetual limp, was with us. This Boxer -- now dead, his ashes in a blue velvet box next to his predecessors' treats -- was a shadow that I could never shake. Except this time, he wasn't by my side. Instead, he was standing toward the wall that divides our house from our neighbor's, his brown-and-white face in the grass.
"Hershey," I called.
He didn't move. He just looked up long enough for me to notice that there was something that looked sort-of alive in his mouth.
"Drop it, your murderer" I screamed, followed by some salty epithets which don't bear repeating.
He did. And, what fell to the grassy floor was a fluffy baby bird, black, small, and unmoving.
Like a scene from a movie where a woman is about to give birth, I yelled for my sons to get clean towels. And a shoe box. With holes.
After gingerly putting the fluffy baby bird, black, small, and now slightly moving, in the shoe box with the holes and the clean towel, I quickly made some calls. It turns out there is a wildlife refuge center about 20 miles from where we live.
So I took this bird, who I believed was on the verge of dying because of my dog, and put him in the car.
"Don't worry, you'll be okay," I assured out loud.
Surprisingly, a sound emerged from the back seat, a kind of whistle you hear when a kid places his thumb and pointer finger under his tongue.
"Tee hee, tee hee," the baby bird replied, more heartily than I would have thought.
So we conversed like this, back and forth, for about the 45 minutes that it took me on the 101 Freeway, off the exit, and up the long, windy canyon to the wooded refuge.
As I got out of the car, holding the shoe box, we passed various animals, rabbits and squirrels and foxes, in crates. While walking toward the center's main building, I said my goodbye and assured the now very alive and talkative baby bird that he would be happy here.
"Tee hee, tee hee," he agreed.
Except when I brought the bird to the hearty young woman at the desk a few very unexpected things happened.
The baby bird was not a sparrow, like I assumed. It was a Black Phoebe, a type of bird I had never heard of. It wasn't dying or even hurt at all. In fact, it seems Hershey, instead of trying to murder the bird, was trying to help it.
"He could of killed the bird in one bite, if he wanted to," the robust, blonde woman assured me.
Most surprisingly of all is that I couldn't leave the bird at the refuge center. I had to take the fluffy baby bird, black, small and now very much moving, back down the windy road, on to the 101 Freeway, and to our backyard where I would put him on top of the brick wall near where his nest most likely was. He had probably fallen out in an attempt to fly away. I had to bring him back and give him another chance to do just that.
As we drove, I explained all this to the bird in the shoe box in the backseat. And just like on the ride over, we conversed like this until we got home to my backyard.
While walking toward the wall that divides our house from our neighbor's, I removed the lid of the shoe box. Before leaving him on top of the wall, I looked at the Black Phoebe, and with his comical little face, he looked back.
"It was nice getting to know you."
"Tee hee, tee hee."
The next morning, with a forgiving Hershey faithfully limping by my side, I walked over to the open shoe box on top of the wall in our backyard. The fluffy baby bird, black and small, was not there.
He had flown away from the nest.
At least for now.